Monthly Archives: September 2010

Flying to Seoul Today

The Antiplanner is flying to Seoul, Korea, today to speak at a conference tomorrow (Thursday local time) on conflict management and collaborative governance. Apparently, someone heard about the Forest Options Group, a committee of environmentalists, timber industry leaders, and Forest Service officials that I helped organize in the late 1990s. The group urged the Forest Service to experiment on individual national forests with alternative governance models, including collaborative governance and market-driven systems.

My report to the conference may be discouraging. I argue that the timber war that took place over western national forests in the 1970s and 1980s resulted from the fact that the incentives to polarize the issues of national forest management were so great that there was no chance for any conflict resolution. I remember environmentalist friends of mine being hung in effigy, other friends bragging that they had ecotaged logging equipment, and people being fired by the associations they worked for because they dared talk with people on the other side of the conflict.

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Los Angeles Rip Off

In 2008, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised voters that extending the city’s Red Line subway would relieve congestion. Voters believed him and supported a sales tax increase to build the line. Now the environmental impact report finds that the subway line will increase rush-hour traffic speeds on parallel streets by, at most, 0.3 mph (p. 3-34). Not surprisingly, some voters — or at least writers at the LA Weekly — feel ripped off.

LA Metro’s response quibbles about the cost of the project. LA Weekly says “Metro plans to use up to $9 billion in sales taxes” on the project, while Metro says the construction cost will be only $4.0 to $4.4 billion. Metro is being disingenuous as both statements can be correct if (as is likely) Metro borrows enough money to incur $4.5 billion or so in interest and finance charges. (Half of the overall payments on a 30-year loan at 5.3 percent turn out to be interest.)

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Notes from Orlando

PowerPoint shows from the 2010 Preserving the American Dream conference are posted on the American Dream Coalition web site. Here are a few interesting comments made at the conference.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation was created on April Fools Day, 1967. Today, it produces a product (mobility) that it doesn’t understand and doesn’t care much about it.” — Alan Pisarski

“Why don’t people live closer to work? Less than 20 percent of travel is work-related, and 30 percent of households do not have any commuters. So people don’t base where they live on where they work.” — Steve Polzin

“The real issue [during reauthorization] is whether we are going to fund the cities directly or through the states. It really is about big-city mayors and their access to funding in Washington.” — Alan Pisarski

“The air coming out of a 2009 or 2010 motorcoach engine is cleaner than the air that is going in.” — Clyde Hart, American Motorcoach Association.

“Historically, higher-density housing housed lower income families. Now we are building high-density housing for high-income households. But we can’t assume that the travel habits of of people who lived in historic higher densities will apply to new higher densities.” — Steve Polzin

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Another Rail Project Goes Overbudget

With phase 1 already under construction, planners now say that phase 2 of Washington’s Dulles Airport rail line will cost almost 50 percent more than previously projected. Of course, the bus-rapid transit project that most people wanted could be running today at a fraction of the cost.

One way to save money, planners say, would be to build the terminus of the project so far away from the Dulles Air terminal that hardly anyone will want to walk to or from the rail line. Of course, if no one rides it, that would also mitigate one of the other problems the rail line is going to cause: congestion on the subway route in downtown Washington.

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Highways Safer Than Ever

It’s official: fewer than 34,000 people died in highway accidents in 2009. That is the fewest highway fatalities since 1950 and the lowest fatality rate per billion vehicle miles in automotive history.

In 1910, nearly 450 people died for every billion vehicle miles driven. This declined to 150 by 1930, 72 by 1950, under 50 by 1970, just over 20 by 1990, and around 11 in 2009. Few sectors of our economy have seen such large and continuous improvements in safety.

But the recent decline is a surprise. After falling pretty steadily from a peak of 55,600 deaths in 1972, fatalities leveled off at around 41,000 deaths in 1991. Safety improvements continued, so fatality rates declined, but this was mitigated by increases in driving, so overall fatalities remained constant. As recently as 2007, 41,000 people died on the highways.

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Private Transit

Many analyses of transit presume that, if government did not subsidize transit, transit wouldn’t exist and everyone who rides it would instead be driving cars. In fact, there are many private transit lines, but they are hard to find partly because the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database only includes lines that are subsidized and partly because private transit is actually illegal in many parts of the country.

One place where private transit is unregulated is Miami, where at least 13 different jitney companies compete against the public transit system. Some of these companies offer rides at lower rates than the public system and even go so far as to run their vehicles a few minutes ahead of the scheduled public bus service.

Houston has a new jitney service called the Washington Wave (because its first route was on Washington Street). There are also a variety of jitneys in New Jersey, plus, of course, the Atlantic City Jitneys.

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High-Speed Fantasy Land

One of the strongest arguments critics raise against California high-speed rail is that it will require huge operating subsidies. Promoters promised that not only would fares cover operating costs, the trains would earn such large operating profits that private investors would be willing to put up around 20 percent of the capital costs if they were promised 100 percent of the operating profits.

Though that appears increasingly dubious, supporters of the rail line continue to claim that it will pay for itself. Only not in the sense that it will actually, you know, pay for itself, but in the sense that its high costs will be justified by the environmental benefits.

This claim is made by a “study” published by the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Irvine. The Antiplanner uses the term “study” in quotation marks as this is not so much a study as it is a parroting of rosy projections from the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) combined with wildly optimistic projections of the benefits of transit-oriented developments that smart-growth advocates hope will be built along the route.

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The Case Against Time Magazine

Time used to be a news magazine with (for part of its history) a strong anti-communist slant. Apparently, news doesn’t sell anymore in the Internet age, as Time is now more of an opinion magazine.

So when last week’s cover story was titled, “Rethinking Homeownership,” the Antiplanner assumed this would be another smart-growth diatribe against urban sprawl with the usual talk about how “some people just shouldn’t own a home.” There’s a little bit of that: “Homeownership contributed to the hollowing out of cities and . . . fed America’s overuse of energy and oil.” But mostly it is just a lament that there have recently been lots of foreclosures.

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Back on the Road Again

The Antiplanner spent most of this week in Glacier National Park attending the annual convention of the Great Northern Railway Historical Society. This is the 100th anniversary of the creation of Glacier Park, which was strongly promoted by Louis Hill, the son of James J. Hill, the builder of the Great Northern Railway. Under Louis’ leadership, the railroad built several magnificent hotels in and near the park, and the convention will be held in one of those hotels.

The Great Northern Empire Builder on the edge of Glacier National Park in 1956. Not only is Amtrak’s Empire Builder a mere shadow of the GN version, these tracks no longer exist as the rail line at this point was rerouted to the south.

Anyway, I’d love to live-blog the convention for you, but the hotel has no Internet service. It is probably just as well, as I spend too much time surfing the web. I’ve pre-written some posts for the next three days, but there may not be a post on Friday. Also, I won’t be able to respond to any comments or emails. I should be back next week.

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